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Heck Of A Job, Harvey

FEMA Deputy Director (and Navy Vice Admiral) Harvey JohnsonNo one had any hard questions for the deputy administrator [Vice Adm. Harvey Johnson] of FEMA, an agency deeply tarnished by its delayed action after Hurricane Katrina, when he held a news conference Tuesday to talk about the California wildfires.

“Are you happy with FEMA’s response so far?” someone asked.

Indeed, the deputy administrator was. “I am very happy with FEMA’s response so far,” responded Vice Adm. Harvey E. Johnson Jr.

The news conference looked like a success in the Bush administration’s effort this week to demonstrate it could respond competently to a disaster.

On Friday, however, the agency admitted that the softball questions were posed by FEMA employees, not reporters.

So begins an L.A. Tmes story on the fake FEMA news conference held last Tuesday.  The Washington Post apparently was the news organization that figured out the news conference was staged:

[Which FEMA employees asked the pre-written questions, as well as a White House Press Secretary Dana Perino video condemning FEMA’s fake news conference, after the break]

…[The news conference was v]ery smooth, very professional. But something didn’t seem right. The reporters were lobbing too many softballs. No one asked about trailers with formaldehyde for those made homeless by the fires. FEMA LogoAnd the media seemed to be giving Johnson all day to wax on and on about FEMA’s greatness.

Of course, that could be because the questions were asked by FEMA staffers playing reporters. We’re told the questions were asked by Cindy Taylor, FEMA’s deputy director of external affairs, and by “Mike” Widomski, the deputy director of public affairs. Director of External Affairs John “Pat” Philbin asked a question, and another came, we understand, from someone who sounds like press aide Ali Kirin.

Asked about this, Widomski said: “We had been getting mobbed with phone calls from reporters, and this was thrown together at the last minute.”

But the staff did not make up the questions, he said, and Johnson did not know what was going to be asked. “We pulled questions from those we had been getting from reporters earlier in the day.” Despite the very short notice, “we were expecting the press to come,” he said, but they didn’t. So the staff played reporters for what on TV looked just like the real thing.


Quoting the Washington Post again:

Heck of a job, Harvey.

Further Reading:
* White House condemns FEMA’s fake presser

* FEMA apologizes after sham news conference
* FEMA Official Involved In Staged News Conference Leaving The Agency


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